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Recognizing Outstanding Young Researchers

Published on June 5, 2015 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 4 months 1 week ago


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CHOP Research has a robust training program for researchers at multiple levels, including CHOP-based graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and physician fellows. During CHOP Research’s recent Poster Day event, the Institute took time to recognize advanced research trainees without whom the medical research conducted every day at CHOP would not be possible.

CHOP Research’s Distinguished Research Trainee Awards provide institution-wide recognition for exceptional CHOP Research trainees, and offer an opportunity for mentors to highlight the work of their researchers-in-training. The 2015 awards went to graduate student Drew Comrie, PhD; physician fellow Elizabeth Bhoj, MD; and postdoctoral fellows Dong Li, PhD, and Daniela Eletto, PhD, who tied for the honor. The Distinguished Research Trainee Award winners’ expertise — in immunology, genetics, and molecular biology — spans the research spectrum.

T Cell Mechanics

After receiving his BS in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Rochester, Drew Comrie, PhD, went on to receive his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2014. From 2009 until his graduation from Penn, Dr. Comrie worked in the laboratory of CHOP’s Janis K. Burkhardt, PhD.

Dr. Comrie is the first author of two recent Journal of Cell Biology papers on the mechanics of T cell activity. The work, which “reveal[s] that the actin cytoskeleton on both sides of the [immunological synapse] promotes the full activation of LFA-1 in order to enhance T cell priming,” was recently profiled in a Journal of Cell Biology “In Focus” article. In addition, Dr. Comrie’s research was integral to an R01 Dr. Burkhardt received from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Since receiving his doctorate, Dr. Comrie moved to postdoctoral position in the lab of Michael J. Lenardo, MD, in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s Laboratory of Immunology.

“I am excited that he will take his talent for basic science and apply it to understanding rare and devastating immunological diseases,” noted Dr. Burkhardt. “Drew is just the sort of scientist that CHOP is poised to train.”

From to Immunology to Genetics

Elizabeth Bhoj, MD, PhD, first came to CHOP for a combined Pediatrics/Genetics Residency in 2010 after receiving her MD/PhD from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. She is now in her first year of the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Translational Research program, and received the Alavi-Dabiri Postdoctoral Fellowship Award from CHOP in 2014.

For his part, Dong Li, PhD, received his doctorate from Chongqing, China’s Southwest University’s Institute of Sericulture and Systems Biology in 2012, and came to CHOP in 2011 after working for BGI-Shenzhen. CHOP and BGI have collaborated on a number of projects, including working together to analyze brain tumors and launching the 1,000 Rare Diseases Project.

Both Drs. Bhoj and Li were mentored by Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Applied Genomics (CAG). Dr. Bhoj’s work has been focused on identifying genes associated with craniofacial development, while Dr. Li has, in part, acted as a project manager for several collaborative CAG projects, helping to identify multiple new disease-causing genetic variants.

Dr. Bhoj, said Dr. Hakonarson, “stands out in my mind as outstanding in her potential for and commitment to a highly successful academic research career.” And Dr. Li, Dr. Hakonarson noted, “was a top-tier postdoc in terms of his research skills, learning capacity, solution finding, and efficiency, and he is extremely hard working and dedicated to his projects.”

Exploring the Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress Response

And last but certainly not least there is Daniela Eletto, PhD. Originally from Italy, Dr. Eletto first came to CHOP in 2010 while still working toward her doctorate at the University of Salerno. Since 2012 she has been a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Yair Argon, PhD, who called Dr. Eletto “very insightful, motivated, and a fast learner.”

Much of Dr. Eletto’s work has been centered on better understanding the molecular underpinnings of cell death. In particular, she has been working with Dr. Argon to better understand the endoplasmic reticulum’s stress response, and last year Dr. Eletto was the first author of a Molecular Cell paper that shed light on how cells deal with stress.

“As Daniela continues to develop and mature as a scientist, she has made a nice transition from focusing on ‘how to’ conduct experiments to ‘which’ experimental approaches are best suited for the problem at hand,” said Dr. Argon.